Despite the changes that have occurred since the revolution, a perennial pastime endures: young men love to cruise up and down the boulevards of the capital. It aggravates both traffic conditions and others trying to use the roads. All thoughts of transit between A and B are forgotten as these young men race to catch a breeze on hot summer nights.
On Thursday night, like thousands of other young Egyptian men who remain cloistered behind desks from morning until night, Ehab Sayeed, a twenty-eight year-old accountant, quickly eats supper with his family and then heads out to meet his friends for an evening cruising up and down the streets and boulevards of Heliopolis. The last thing Sayeed wants, after working indoors all day, is a quiet, domestic night with his family. “I love my family, but after twenty-eight years living with them, what else is there to talk about? I need to get out,” he explains.
While Cairo’s nightlife has expanded in recent years, the temptations of nightclubs, bars, and art openings remain out of reach for many young men saving their money in the hope of one day leaving home. Thursday and Friday cruise nights therefore persist as a relatively cheap pursuit for young Cairenes. By the early hours of Friday morning, Sayeed and his friends will have covered scores of kilometers. They’ll have gotten refreshments and enjoyed them at various points overlooking the city. They’ll have talked politics in coffee shops and played FIFA ’09 on a secondhand PS2. They’ll have eaten again and finally dragged themselves home, too tired to continue.
Cruising presents the opportunity to unwind after a long work week. For Sayeed, it means more: this time with friends represents one of the few choices that exist in his life, and indeed, one of the only avenues of self- expression available to him. He recounts that going out at night isn’t just about checking out other guys’ cars and girlfriends, “I can’t express myself at work. At home, I share a bedroom with my brother. But I choose my friends, and we choose what we do each night. The street is the only place we can be free,” he told The Daily News Egypt.
While cruising may seem repetitive to those accustomed to livelier, more expensive nights out, Sayeed’s friend Mohamed Hady, a personal trainer, affirms the joie de vivre he derives from it. It is something he can manage on small means and in the face of enormous pressure at work and at home. “I would love to own a business one day, make more money, and have access to the more exciting lifestyle available to the upper classes,” he says. “Now all I own is my red Civic. But my car is enough to get away; it’s enough to be myself.”
Both Sayeed and Hady stress the importance of working hard to advance in their careers, but also hint at a certain delight in keeping what they euphemistically call “Egyptian time.” Sayeed explains, “When we cruise, we’re resisting the stresses of a highly demanding, technologised life. We’re asserting one of the only rights we have: the right to have fun while we’re young.”